#102 – Space

10 Aug

Space (B-side to ‘O.U.’, 1992)
Space (BBC Hit The North Soundcheck, 1991)
Space (French Version) – Live at La Cigale, Paris, October 1991
Space at Pulpwiki

In a mute embrace, they drifted up till they were swimming amongst the misty wraiths of moisture that you can see feathering around the wings of an aeroplane… …Arthur and Fenchurch could feel them, wispy cold and thin, wreathing round their bodies, very cold, very thin… …They were in the cloud for a long time, because it was stacked very high, and when finally they emerged wetly above it, Fenchurch slowly spinning like a starfish lapped by a rising tidepool, they found that above the clouds is where the night get seriously moonlit. The light is darkly brilliant. There are different mountains up there, but they are mountains, with their own white arctic snows.

from Douglas Adams’s “So Long And Thanks For All The Fish”

“I remember when I was young watching the first man on the moon. The people at NASA were saying that by 1984 we’d all be living on different planets, and we believed them completely. There didn’t seem to be any reason why we wouldn’t…. …I suppose I finally realised that it was all a fantasy when I was 22. I didn’t have any money and there wasn’t much coming in from the band so I was selling off my belongings. I distinctively remember tromping around Sheffield with a yellow portable washing machine, trying to sell it to get the money for some food. It was pissing down and I thought to myself, Jarvis, you were supposed to be living in space by now. It was pretty obvious by then that it wasn’t going to happen. You have to stop living your life for the future.”

Jarvis in “Volume Two”, November 1991

My favourite Pulp album isn’t an album at all; it’s just a ‘compilation’ – up there with ‘Freshly Squeezed… the Early Years’ and ‘Pulp It Up’ in the catalogue of forgotten cash-ins. ‘Intro’ certainly doesn’t deserve this fate, but as tragedies go, it’s fairly minor, and if its songs remain unknown to the general public, it’s a price worth paying for the fact that it represents a heroic rescue project for a group mired in legal problems.

1991 was a year of mixed fortunes for Pulp. On the plus side, Jarvis and Steve had finished their degrees, the band was again a full-time project, sounding better than ever, and the music press was finally beginning to take notice. But at the same time, Rough Trade and Fire were still out of action, the now two-year-old Separations was still a year away from getting a release, and Pulp were signed up to record another 4 LPs for an inoperative organisation which they had a poor relationship with at the best of times. The group’s new manager, Suzanne Catty, was attempting to help them escape this contract and set up a deal with Island Records, but the impasse with Fire seemed to be growing in complexity by the day, with multiple claims and counter-claims about the legality of the deal. Waiting it out is never fun, especially when you’re on a creative roll, but recording an album on borrowed money and then being unable to release it, well, that way lies madness.

Fortunately a solution was at hand. The group’s old friends at FON and Warp were enjoying a surge of critical and commercial success, and Jarvis and Steve had played their part, producing music videos for Sweet Exorcist and Nightmares on Wax. The group would record a session at FON (paid for as a demo by Island) which could then be released on a Warp sub-label, christened ‘Gift Records’. The session took place in January 1992 and the single – O.U. backed with Space – was released in May. If the problems had been sorted at this stage then all would’ve been fine – the new LP recorded later that year and released just in time to cash-in on the buzz – but as it turned out the morass would continue for the best part of two years, and the Gift singles turned from a one-off to a trilogy. His ‘n’ Hers – the album that was finally put out on Island in 1994 – contains only one track from the Gift singles, and that originally as a CD-only bonus track.

The thing is, Intro seems to work better as an album than His ‘n’ Hers does. It’s not just the selection of songs, it’s the way they interplay with each-other, the way they are laid out for you. ‘Space’ – still vivid and atmospheric nearly twenty years after it was written – is the perfect opener.

It had been the perfect opener for their live sets for a good few years too – a natural progression from the drones and atmospherics of ‘Hydroelectric Dam’ and ‘Heart Trouble’. Taken as a single song, it’s then perhaps the oldest thing on Intro, but early versions were surely quite different from the finished product we know. The words at the start were always improvised, and the few versions we have vary hugely, though the basic concept is always there. There’s something dissatisfying about hearing these other versions, though – perhaps the lyrics are meandering and odd, maybe Candida’s synth is too intrusive – and comparison to the ‘official’ version never flatter. The best-known of these alternative versions is from the ‘Hit The North’ soundcheck, as it was later included for some reason on the His’n’Hers deluxe edition. It’s not bad exactly, the boogie at the end is joyfully furious, but the first half is a bit too Spinal Tap. So let’s just stick to what I’ll take as the definitive version – the b-side to ‘O.U.’, later included on Intro.

We start with that electronic hum – a sci-fi version of the keyboard drone from the start of Fairground, almost. Instead of melodramatic threat, though, we’re drifting into a soundscape with a monologue. It’s a guided dream again, or an astral projection. An easy journey to other planets. Life on Earth is humdrum tedium – “selling washing machines in the rain” – tasks and routines that tie you down. And now we’re weightless, floating free. That “we” is telling. Rather than being directed at the audience the monologue is presented to a partner who’s troubled by the heaviness of life. “You said you wanted some space…” Eastern religion has never been a theme for Pulp, but this letting go of earthly things sounds like Buddhist mysticism – or a sexual version thereof. We’re still in the acid house hangover of the early 90s, and taking off into space to touch the stars was very much de-rigeur.

Every rave has its comedown though – that moment a kernel of disbelief swells into a new reality;

“All the stars are bright, but they don’t give out any heat. The planets are lumps of rock, floating in a vacuum.”

And then, of course, “I think it’s time to go home” – the mystical morphs into the physical, time to stop stargazing and direct your gazes downward. This is where the talking ends, as it must. A muttered “get down” and we launch into Pulp’s funkiest moment yet. Jarvis steps back from the action and lets the rhythm section take over. Steve, Nick and Candida seemed to gel in this era like never before or since. Who knows if it was the Barry White, the acid house or the years stuck in a practice room without a gig or a session in sight, but they just seem to have instinctively been able to produce this dirty blaxploitation spy movie groove from thin air. Candida is the vital piece in this setup – she led the first half, and her keyboards push this section forward too, as it builds to a climax like the sex its meant to replicate, and suddenly dissipates with a sigh.

That release of energy sets us up for all that’s to come in the next eight tracks – all has been reset, and it’s time to start again. There’s no manifesto here – this descent to earth is if anything the rejection of the very idea of manifestos, but history has still been wiped clean, and here we are again with tabula rasa. Life starts in ’92.

“This album comprises the three singles released by Pulp on Sheffield’s Gift Records during 1992/3.
It is intended as an introduction to the group for those who may have missed these songs first time around. Welcome.”
– Sleeve notes to ‘Intro’.

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